Sam Burnham, Curator
Due to the strong themes in the film, I decided to do a commentary piece on them in addition to the movie review.
As I mentioned in the review, the fictitious Teas Midlands Bank plays the roles of victim and villain. As a regional bank headquartered in Ft. Worth but with small branches in several small rural West Texas towns, the bank’s practices and policies keep it successful at the expense of the residents of these towns and the surrounding farms. And the townspeople hate the bank for it.
Ive mentioned community banking on this page before. I do as little business with large financial institutions as is absolutely possible. I’d rather not do business with any bank whose headquarters is not in my town. That’s not always realistic.Market and regulatory issues cause my bank to sell 100% of the mortgages they originate to larger institutions. It’s just not worth it for them to keep mortgages in house. But a bank that depends on the health of your community is a bank that will benefit your community. A bank that doesn’t depend on the health of your community will have different goals.
In Hell or High Water we see a large regional bank and big oil doing well financially. But there’s a price for that success. It’s a price paid for by the community. One scene stands out even more than the rest.
So we reflect on the ways big business has hindered the small town ways of life. Big Banks, Walmart, Amazon, Big Oil, even considering the impact Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds had on the situation I covered in Tobacco Road, all these take money from small towns and offer little in return for it. Without a strong local economy, people remain in poverty. Only someone with a way to offer big money to big business is going to benefit from big business. And no one is getting rich working for someone else these days.
I’m not saying these things to bellyache or spread doom and gloom. These are the very reasons we need to support local businesses, especially banks. It’s why we need to support local enterprise. It’s why we need to support small businesses, entrepreneurial start ups.
Hell or High Water wasn’t just a good movie. It was an important movie. While still avoiding spoilers, it showed a fictional attempt by a few victims to get even with the big guys. I don’t advocate violence, robbery, or chaos. I’m not endorsing their methods. But it’s past time that we fought back. Big Business and Big Government are usually two heads of the same monster. We’ve got to do what we can to get out from under that monster.
Sam Burnham, Curator
My reviews aren’t always timely. This one is no exception. This review goes back to a 2016 release that escaped my radar then but I came across a clip from it a while back and then found the film on Netflix. After viewing it, I think it is important to not only review it but also to follow up with a commentary as I’ve done before.
The cast of Hell or High Water led by Jeff Bridges, using his gravely cowboy voice rather than his more recognized “Dude” voice. Bridges plays an aging Texas Ranger on the trail of bank robbers . His partner is played by Gil Birmingham, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors.
The setting is West Texas but it could just as easily have been in rural areas of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, or Mississippi. There is a painfully accurate portrayal of poverty in rural America. Rather than showing poverty as poor people in a comfortable home but with few possessions, poverty is shown as true economic insecurity. Widespread poverty is contrasted against the wealth of Big Oil and Texas Midlands Bank, the regional bank that plays the roles of both victim and villain.
Texas Midlands takes the brunt of the vengeance within the plot but a broad definition of predatory lending is laid out before viewers to see the sentiment of the common people of West Texas who are consistently reluctant to help rangers investigate the string of bank robberies that are hammering Texas Midlands Bank branches.Their reluctance is due to their hatred for the bank and the practices that have cost so many so much.
On the flip side of the plot we learn of the impact these lending practices has had on the two brothers who are pulling off the robberies one by one. The planning and execution of the robberies serve a particular goal. They also kept the investigators confused. Without giving out spoilers, two robbers and two rangers spin and weave plot twists into a thrilling story, a story with many small messages that combine to make a rousing narrative of Agrarianism, decentralization, and the need for family and community.
But I don’t want to muddy up this review with two much analysis. That’ll be the next story. For now let me say this is a great movie. It has poignant messages we need to consider, action to keep you engaged, and some really good acting. It’s one of the best movies I’ve seen.
And now I’m off to break down those messages...
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Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire